This is the second in a two part blog post exploring personal boundaries and expectations.
Holding rigid expectations for yourself and those around you creates a sense of anxiety and powerlessness. So how do you know if this is a problem for you? Begin by getting curious about your notion of boundaries… Where does your responsibility truly begin and end? When you think about an area of personal struggle, what part of the struggle are you responsible for and what extends beyond your control? Where do your expectations violate the property lines of others? Is your goal to protect yourself or have others abide by your rules?
Any time someone fails to adhere to your standards, it can create a negative perception of their intentions and motivations. When you fall into the trap that this anxiety creates, you are prisoner to your lack of control by becoming a prisoner to the actions of others.
Ask yourself, is your peace of mind reliant on the behavior of others? Do you need someone to say or do things a certain way so that you feel ok? If you answered yes to either of these questions, then you might be struggling with boundaries, rigid expectations, or both. You may find yourself stuck in a trap where you have relinquished your personal power and happiness to things, circumstances, and people you cannot control. Many times there is an undercurrent of need; a void that you have longed to fill outside yourself that can stem from any number of situations that merit exploration.
We have all struggled to maintain healthy boundaries and expectations at some point in our lives. Only when we recognize that our methods are no longer working for us can we hope to create something different. We have to be open to change and the possibility that a different approach is necessary. There is nothing wrong with clear defensible boundaries and setting reasonable expectations for how we want to live our life. We enter into murky waters when we use either boundaries or expectations as a method of controlling others or as a measure of our own worth and value.
Accepting that life and relationships contain both freedom and uncertainty churns up a lot of emotion; for some it creates anxiety knowing how much of life is beyond our control, to others it creates excitement and anticipation about the potential and possibility of our unwritten future. Somewhere in between lies a middle ground where we are free to dream and imagine what life will hold. It is only when our dreams are balanced with a measure of acceptance of the reality and unpredictability of our world will we be equipped to handle the curveballs that get thrown in our direction, because the curveballs always come.
Mental health care has a definite presence in the world of popular culture so there always seems to be a current buzz word. From mindfulness to meditation; any time we toss around words with a one size fits all mindset the meaning and relevance can get lost. Terminology becomes watered down, trendy, and misunderstood. Boundaries and expectations are two of the most overused and often most misunderstood words that I hear in my office with regularity. In regard to our physical and emotional health, let’s take a moment to define a boundary and an expectation.
Dr. Henry Cloud & Dr. John Townsend are among the most well known authorities in the area of personal boundaries. According to Cloud & Townsend a boundary helps us understand what we are responsible for. Said of boundaries; “they define what is me and what is not me. A boundary shows me where I end and someone else begins, leading me to a sense of ownership.” (Cloud & Townsend, 1992). It is easy to understand when we consider physical property. When we own a piece of land, it is contained within physical property lines that designate what I own and what I do not own. We apply the same logic to personal boundaries to understand what I am responsible for and what I’m not.
In it’s most basic form, an expectation can be defined as a belief about what might happen in the future. When we apply expectations to personal behavior or relationship, that definition often changes from what might happen, to what should happen. Expectations are often confused with boundaries when we struggle to define our property lines. If I begin formulating expectations of other people and their behavior as if it is within my right to do so, I hit the slippery slope. I extend my property rights outside of what I truly own and am responsible for when these expectations become demands to control the behavior of someone else.
You can already begin to see how quickly a relationship can enter complex and confusing territory. A desire to help and care for others can turn to codependent and enabling behavior just as easily as a desire for structure and security can result in inflexibility and ultimatums. We’ve already touched on enough content for countless conversations and self analysis. I always stress that you should choose carefully when you engage in conversation about personal and sensitive topics. Talk with someone you trust, who has your best interest at heart; a friend, family member or trained professional who is there to help you grow! Check back in a few days for part 2 of this post and we will briefly consider some questions that can help us begin to understand when and where we might find ourselves getting off track.
Cloud, H., & Townsend, J. S. (1992). Boundaries: When to say yes, when to say no to take control of your life. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan Pub. House.
As I launch this blog, I think about the endless array of information the internet provides; news, shopping, entertainment, tools and resources. Enter a simple search and millions of results pop up in a fraction of a second inundating us with options and choices. There is a go-to app or website for everything imaginable. Overwhelming abundance and availability creates a demand for anything and everything and a growing reliance on easy access. The line between want and need becomes blurred and we create expectations born of convenience. This level of access should heighten our caution and awareness; not lower our guard. Just because we read it online doesn’t make it true. Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should. Just because you can find it, doesn’t make safe or eliminate responsibility and the need for precaution.
The darker side of the internet creates an illusion of anonymity that welcomes predators and ensnares victims by casting a net to prey upon those who are curious, confused, lost, or simply seeking connection. Feeding on our deepest fears and insecurities, the most innocent of intentions can create mis-steps that may lead to deception, addiction and criminal activity. From pornography, trafficking, gambling, hate crimes to terrorism; the minefield of intolerance, cyber-crime and depravity has grown exponentially. Somewhere in between the helpful conveniences and the seedy underbelly lies an array of ambiguous and indiscriminate information that is unfiltered, uncensored and unproven. This is where we must be vigilant in a world of easy access and instant gratification. Our quest for an immediate return comes at a cost that requires we be discriminating in disseminating the validity, propriety and usefulness of everything we click on. Launch every search with a balance of healthy skepticism and an open mind; a notion of caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) and caveat lector (let the reader beware).
As I consider the intent behind this blog as one of many internet offerings; it is put forth with the same level of caution expressed above. When you consider the endless array of advice, self help, and short cuts; filter your findings judiciously. When it comes to emotional health care, consider what you are looking for and what you hope to gain… Insight, support, resources, advice, direction, justification? The purpose of this blog is to promote curiosity, initiate conversation, and encourage exploration around some of the most basic interpersonal and individual issues we encounter in everyday life. Because the internet has become the go-to for so many people searching for help, support, and answers for the more complex situations they face, an anonymous search cannot offer individualized care or connection or thorough resolution one would receive in the presence of a trusted friend or an experienced professional. So move forward with an understanding of what you hope to find. There are wonderful resources available online, from guided meditations to journaling apps, helplines to crisis intervention links. Emotional issues are painful, so it makes sense that we want help and we want it fast. Complex issues typically require more time and support than a search engine can provide. Please move forward with caution and never let a blog or article take the place of quality mental health care that only a qualified professional can provide!
Gina Waltmire, LMFT
Gina is a licensed marriage and family therapist practicing in Overland Park, KS
10100 W. 87th St., Suite 209, Overland Park, KS 66212